WEST LONG BRANCH — A majority of Americans sees climate change as a very serious problem that the federal government should do something about, but the issue ranks in the same tier as racial inequality and jobs and unemployment in relative importance, according to a Monmouth University Poll released Monday.
In ranking issues by how important they are for the government to address, the coronavirus pandemic was deemed extremely important by 43% of people, while racial inequality came in second at 34% and climate change was third at 33%.
Jobs and unemployment was fourth most cited as extremely important at 32% and transportation and energy infrastructure were deemed so by 23% of people responding.
Most Americans say climate change has played a significant role in recent wildfires, floods and other national disasters, the poll found.
“It’s not just about sea level rise. Americans in all parts of the country see climate change as having a significant impact on their local environments as the damage from weather events and natural disasters continues to rise,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Public opinion remains mixed, however, on how much human activity contributes to the climate. Just over one-third said climate change is caused mainly by human activity, while another third said human activity and natural changes in the environment play equal roles.
About 8% said climate change is mainly causes by natural forces.
There isn’t much difference between Americans who live in coastal states and those who live inland, in the percentage who believe climate changes is driving extreme weather and rising seas. In fact, slightly more inland residents (78%) share that belief, compared to 75% of coastal residents.
The same percentage (56%) of coastal and inland residents see climate change as a very serious problem, the poll found.
Three years ago, there was a large gap on this question, with 61% of Americans in coastal states seeing it as serious problem, compared to just 44% of those living inland.
There continues to be a significant partisan and age divide on the issue, however.
About 85% of Democrats and 56% of independents say climate change is a very serious problem, but only 21% of Republicans agree.
Two-thirds of Americans who are 18 to 34 years old see climate change as very serious, compared to about half of those aged 35 to 54 (48%) or 55 and older (54%).
Americans in the 18 to 34 age bracket are more likely to support government action on climate change (80%) than Americans 35 to 54 years old (62%) and those 55 and older (60%). These differences are similar to past polls.
A rise in Republican acknowledgement of the issue observed three years ago now appears to have been a temporary blip, Murray said.
“Republican acknowledgement of climate change was a major finding in the 2018 poll. However, that was conducted right before then-President Donald Trump disparaged a federal climate report,” Murray said. “The GOP base’s views on hot button issues such as climate change have shifted to be more in line with this orthodoxy.”
Most Americans (66%) support more government action to reduce the type of activities that cause climate change and sea level rise. Just 27% oppose the government doing more. These results have been fairly consistent since 2015.
“The fact that climate change is on par with traditional pocketbook issues as a top concern for the American public reflects a growing recognition of the existential threat it poses. It’s unfortunate that there is such a wide partisan divide on this priority, though, because the impact of climate change is felt by Americans from every walk of life, including Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Tony MacDonald, director of the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute.
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from Sept. 9 to 13 with 802 adults in the United States. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, Monmouth County.
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post